I recently received an email from Uplift asking me to fill in a questionnaire on my views on abortion in the lead up to the referendum in Ireland this year. I was about to delete the email when I paused and asked myself why I was reluctant to put my views on abortion in writing.
It is often difficult to speak out publicly against abortion. The chances are people will say: “What has it to do with you; you have never had a decision like that to make. What can you as a celibate, contribute to the debate?” We religious people, can be seen as closed and rigid and intolerant of other people’s views. We can even be openly mocked and despised for holding a life-affirming ethic. In other words, we may feel intimidated, and silenced. Also we may feel reluctant to be associated with some groups who use questionable means to spread the pro-life message, including displaying graphic pictures that shock and horrify.
Pope Francis speaks of the “culture of life versus the culture of death”. The culture of death is everywhere around us. The memory of the two great world wars is still with us – wars where tens of millions lost their lives. We remember the savagery of the holocaust. And in our living rooms, on our television screens, we see the bitter conflicts, genocides and massacres that are taking place daily around the globe.
And what can we say about the deaths of those who have not had a chance to taste life? Over 186,000 abortions were carried out in the UK last year and the numbers are still climbing. According to statistics, almost 4 in 10 terminations are now carried out on women who have undergone the procedure before. And figures revealed that 50 women had each had eight terminations. (The Guardian 20th December 2017). According to the Irish Family Planning Association between 1980 and 2016, based on the UK Department of Health statistics, at least 168,703 women and girls who accessed UK abortion services provided Irish addresses. Abortion is already normalized.
What value is placed on human life? What value has the life developing in the womb? Are the old, disabled, no longer human because they are no longer productive? Should life be ended in such cases? Euthanasia and assisted suicide—and sometimes both—have been legalized in a number of European countries. In all countries, laws and safeguards have been put in place to prevent abuse of these practices. These safeguards include explicit consent by the person requesting euthanasia, mandatory reporting of all cases, administration only by physicians (with the exception of Switzerland), and consultation by a second physician. However, research carried out by Professor J Pereira from the University of Ottawa provides evidence that these laws and safeguards are regularly ignored and that transgression is not prosecuted.
“It has been reported that about 900 people annually are given lethal substances without having given explicit consent, and in one jurisdiction, almost 50% of cases of euthanasia are not reported. Increased tolerance of transgressions in societies with such laws represents a social “slippery slope,” as do changes to the laws and criteria that followed legalization. Although the initial intent was to limit euthanasia and assisted suicide to a last-resort option for a very small number of terminally ill people, in some places the practice has been extended to newborns, children, and people with dementia. A terminal illness is no longer a prerequisite. In the Netherlands, euthanasia for anyone over the age of 70 who is “tired of living” is now being considered.” (J Pereira: “Legalizing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide”. Current Oncology 2011. Pages 38-45).
Legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide therefore places many people at risk, does not provide controls and safeguards and affects the values of society over time. What does it say of a society which legalizes the elimination of its “non-productive” citizens? What have we learned from the mass murder of Jews and others “unworthy of life” during the Second World War? Historians state that the tragic drama which ended in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Belsen and Treblinka had far more humble beginnings – in nursing homes, geriatric hospitals and psychiatric institutions all over Germany.
In Belgium, the pro-euthanasia ideology is turning a civilized country into a “terrifying dystopia in which doctors have become killers and many Belgian nurses who specialise in treating dying patients are quitting their jobs because palliative care units are being turned into houses of euthanasia”. (Catholic Herald. January 2018.)
What should be our response in the upcoming referendum in Ireland? Obviously a first response should be one of compassion for those who feel compelled to seek the “solution” of abortion in the face of an unwanted pregnancy. I believe using the language of “sin” is not helpful in that it denotes condemnation. And who are we to condemn?
Second our society needs to be able to offer immediate practical support in terms of housing, financial help and counselling for those facing an agonizing decision. A pro-life stance should mean we are concerned with the promotion of life at every level. Joan Chittister makes this point. “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, our morality is deeply lacking if all we are concerned about is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed….. “. This comment was made in the context of cuts to child care and support for families in the US budget and did not imply, as some have suggested, that those in the pro – life movement are accused of being concerned about the abortion issue only and not about the on-going welfare of mothers and children.
We, who vow to promote life in all its forms believe that every life is precious…a child in the mother’s womb, a child born disabled, an elderly person suffering from dementia, a frightened immigrant alone in a foreign land…all are precious in God’s eyes.
Pope Benedict says: “The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, therefore cannot be a human right – it is the very opposite”.
Sr. Gemma Corbett